If you knew a person that reacted to love with violence and hatred, what would you do? Enter Shogo, a young man whose childhood has caused him to react violently to any display of affection, be it from man or beast. His hatred is not unnoticed, though. As punishment for his aggression against love, a goddess appears before him and relates to him that he is to be punished by the gods to find the love he was never given as a child, and then have it snatched away violently from him over and over again.
Often claimed to be one of Tezuka’s most erotic and dark stories, Apollo’s Song is not the Astro Boy and Black Jack you’ve been used to. There is little cheer or happiness in Apollo’s Song. Vertical Inc. has released this comic to mixed appeal from many reviewers, and for good enough reason – its age.
Apollo’s Song was written in 1970, a much less progressive time, especially in Japan. With each passage, we see characters and ideas rooted in that time. Women are treated more like objects and less like characters, and Tezuka paints a picture of mental illness that is very backwards. We see the career woman looked down upon, and see things as generally “uninformed.”
These major issues aside, Apollo’s Song is a very unique story about a man travelling through time; whether by the hands of his doctors or the trauma he experiences, we can’t tell. He becomes a WWII soldier who falls in love with a Jewish damsel in distress, a human terrorist who falls in love with the very target of his own assassination attempt, and a pilot hired to help a photographer take pictures who falls in love with the photographer. These experiences are wrapped around a main plot where he falls in love with a woman trying to cure him of his hatred and train him as a long distance runner. Each of these women look astoundingly alike, and for good reason – they represent the same thing; the ideal of love.
The most important attribute of Apollo’s Song is that it is most critically a healing journey. The stories are violent, but they have to be. The path is difficult, because it must be. Shogo, despite all the hatred we can pour on him for his despicable actions, is also identifiable. We see his confusion and anger within ourselves. We see his lack of responsibility in others, we see his strengths and weaknesses all around us. And, as he progresses through each tale, we see him slowly and surely break free from his obsessive hatred at the hands of a strong woman, at the hands of love. We see him come to grips with his problems, and we see him overcome them.
The dramatic storytelling of Apollo’s Song is coupled with Tezuka’s beautiful landscapes and imagery. While his characters are cartoony and Disney-influenced, the art is nothing less than spectacular.
It is for this reason that Apollo’s Song transcends the ordinary. While many will judge the story for being backwards, which it sometimes surely is, it also has moments of absolute clarity. In these moments, we see Tezuka making a statement that is universal – the power of love. It is without a doubt in my mind that Apollo’s Song is required reading for manga fans; it shows the evolution of the genre beyond the zaniness of Astro Boy and gives us a glimpse of the genius of the God of Manga.